CORBIN CITY — They call it the Taj Mahal, the Great Adventure of dog-training facilities.
MAYS LANDING — At first, Andrew Pollack wasn’t too sure when he got a call last year asking whether a dog that was going to be trained to protect students against active shooters could be named after his daughter, Meadow.
Meadow, 18, was one of the 17 people killed during the February 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She was shot four times, Pollack said, then threw herself over another student and was shot five more times.
“When you think about it, my daughter would have wanted it,” Pollack said Friday afternoon just before Meadow the dog’s graduation ceremony at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology. “She was a fighter and tried to save other students before she was murdered. If that school had (a dog), it would have saved lives.”
Meadow was one of a class of 15 dogs that graduated from Atlantic County’s John “Sonny” Burke Police K-9 Academy in Corbin City on Friday, including two trained to identify bombs and other explosives that will work at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City.
CORBIN CITY — They call it the Taj Mahal, the Great Adventure of dog-training facilities.
But Meadow stands out among the other dogs as the first K-9 to work in a South Jersey high school to find guns and ammo and to identify and attack an active shooter. She has been working at Cumberland County Technical Education Center in Vineland since September, protecting about 800 students.
“This dog is going to save lives,” Pollack said. “The beauty of it is, you’ll never know how many lives this dog will save because it’s such a deterrent. Most of the people who do these school shootings are cowards and don’t want to go anywhere they’ll be bit.”
Since his daughter’s killing, Pollack has been outspoken about increasing school safety, and that’s what drew Joe Nick, the K-9 training director, and Officer Stephen Manera, Meadow’s handler, to reach out to him, Nick said.
Meadow, a 2-year-old Dutch shepherd, is the first school dog through the academy, Nick said, an idea he’s worked on for five years because he wanted to make a difference.
“It’s a totally new game,” Nick said, adding he and Manera wanted to name the dog Meadow because Pollack has the same goal as he does — “because he spoke up against the world and said, ‘Fix it.’”
Manera, who retired from the state Department of Corrections, said Meadow loves going to work every day at the school, and the kids love her, too.
“I’m going to protect her as much as possible, and she’s going to protect me,” Manera said. “If we can prevent something like what happened to the Pollacks, that’s the goal.”
Nick was able to get Meadow donated and trained her for free.
Meadow identifies sounds that could be gunshots and takes Manera to where the sound is coming from, Nick said. It could be a nail gun or even clapping, but Manera is able to assess the situation to determine whether there’s a threat.
“If a shooter would come to attack the students, she would attack that shooter,” Nick said.
Andre Lopez, director of campus safety and security for the high school, said Meadow is just one layer of safety in addition to 140 cameras inside and outside the buildings and the 14 retired law-enforcement officers who patrol the school, armed, in shifts.
“The biggest thing she does is she’s a big presence on campus,” Lopez said. “She’s a deterrent.”
Lopez, along with Superintendent Dina Rossi, said the students are respectful of Meadow, knowing she’s not a pet, and her job is to protect them.
“We don’t remember life before her,” Rossi said. “It’s like she’s always been here.”
During his speech at the graduation, Pollack said K-9s aren’t cowards, like humans can sometimes be, and that they will always go toward danger.
“They’re going to save lives,” Pollack said. “It’s not going to be like what happened with my daughter and those other children. I see this could be the first of many schools to have a dog like Meadow.”
Chris Ferry Sr. received a text message at 8 a.m. Wednesday from someone who was not in his contacts wishing him a happy birthday.
Ferry, who turns 62 on March 16, called the guy back and said, “Who are you? Where did you get my number? How did you know it was my birthday?”
The man on the other end of the phone said, “I saw it on a billboard.”
Ferry, of Linwood, the president of Chris Ferry Insurance, has received hundreds of phone calls and texts wishing him happy birthday since Wednesday, thanks to a billboard on the Black Horse Pike in Atlantic City.
A billboard that says, “Wish My Dad Happy Birthday — Love, Your Sons, 1 (561) 307-4879,” greets drivers on the right-hand side of the pike before the intersection with West End Avenue. A picture of Ferry’s face takes up the left side of the billboard.
Ferry knew it was his sons as soon as he heard there was a billboard, but he had to see it for himself.
“I’m totally flattered. I’m enjoying the attention. It’s all cool,” said Ferry, who added he has unlimited talk, data and text on his cellphone plan. “My phone is blowing up.”
Ferry’s oldest son, Christopher Ferry Jr., 30, of Boynton Beach, Florida, came up with the idea.
“Not only is there the billboard, we put it on social media as well, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. He is getting calls from all over the country, South Carolina, Alaska, New Hampshire, New Jersey. He got a couple of calls he said from Luxembourg, a different country,” said Ferry Jr., who owns and operates the Boca Recovery Center in Florida and is heavily involved in marketing and social media.
Ferry Jr. said his father answered 300 texts and phone calls Wednesday alone. Ferry Jr. and his younger brother, Michael, 28, paid for the billboard to be up through April 6.
A 2007 St. Augustine Prep graduate, Ferry Jr. and his younger brother used to play ice hockey during high school. Their father was the ultimate hockey dad.
“My brother and I were always on the road playing ice hockey,” Ferry Jr. said. “My dad is and was the best dad ever. He sacrificed work events, his social life, everything. He would travel all over the country to take me and my brother to ice hockey tournaments everywhere, (including) Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Canada.”
When on the road, the Ferry brothers, their peers and the other hockey dads would stop at Applebee’s for dinner.
“Either me or my brother would tell the waiter or waitress that it was his birthday when it wasn’t, so they would bring out a birthday cake, and everyone would sing him, “Happy Birthday.” All the hockey dads would break his chops, and all my friends would get a kick out out of it. Every time, we would prank my dad when we were on the road, if we got a chance to.”
Ferry Jr. talked to his younger brother about what kind of prank they could pull to bust his father’s chops this year for his birthday. One day later, Ferry Jr. had a plan.
The phone number on the billboard is a Florida number, so Ferry Sr. could always end the prank by changing his number, but he said he will let the calls and texts keep coming.
“I’m a bigger fan of them (his sons) than they are of me,” Ferry Sr. said.
Egg Harbor Township teacher Dawn Heist was thrilled when a representative of the Arena Football League’s Atlantic City Blackjacks contacted her this week to see whether her music class would be interested in performing the national anthem this season at one of the team’s home games at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.
She was singing a much different tune when she learned it would cost $1,500 to do it.
“When they first called, I got really excited,” said Heist, a kindergarten and music teacher at Trinity Learning Center. “When they told me I had to buy $1,500 worth of tickets, I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I was a little taken aback at first, and the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. This is a really bad way for them to start out.”
ATLANTIC CITY — Arena Football League and Atlantic City franchise officials were optimistic Thursday the city’s new team will be able to avoid the problems that doomed other professional sports ventures.
According to AFL President John Adams, it’s a fairly common practice with Arena League franchises.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Eagles do not have those same requirements. Both teams provide tickets to the performers and their families for that particular game.
Because AFL teams only play six home games, the league views it as a way to generate revenue and put some extra fans in the stands.
“The premise is that it’s a very cool experience for the school groups and other organizations,” said Adams, whose 15-year tenure with the Arena League includes 12 years as president of the Philadelphia Soul. “They get to be down on the field with the players and everything for 90 minutes and also perform in front of thousands of people. And the $1,500 over six games actually makes up a significant part of the game-day revenue.
ATLANTIC CITY — Ocean Resort Casino will be the official host hotel of the new Atlantic City Arena Football League team for the 2019 season.
“The Soul has been doing it since 2004, and just about every other team that’s been in the league during that time has done the same thing or something very similar.”
That was news to Heist, who said she performed the anthem for past Atlantic City teams such as the Seagulls of the former United States Basketball League and the Boardwalk Bullies of the East Coast Hockey League.
In those cases, they did not have to pay for tickets, and family and guests were given free seats.
“It’s unheard of for me,” said Heist, who said she also has performed solo at sports events and venues such as the now-closed Atlantic City Race Course in Mays Landing. “We’re not a very big school, and it would be hard to raise that kind of money. You’re talking about children that are between 4 and 8 or 9 years old. And what if you agree and then you come up short? It’s just a horrible way of doing things, in my opinion. Needless to say, I told them no.”
The resort’s new Arena Football League team will play its inaugural home game in Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall on May 4.
The Blackjacks play their first home game May 4 at Boardwalk Hall against the Columbus Destroyers and has subsequent home games May 18 (Baltimore Brigade), May 25 (Albany Empire), June 1 (Baltimore), July 11 (Soul) and July 21 (Baltimore).
Adams said he expects the team to have plenty of groups available to sing the anthem.
“In Philadelphia, they have a waiting list of people who want to sing the national anthem or ‘God Bless America,’” he said. “It’s one of the first things to sell out as soon as we announce the schedule. If someone decides not to do it, it’s not a big deal. We completely understand.”
PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP — The question of whether 16 acres of white pine trees may be cut down in a state forest to improve visibility at the Bass River fire tower is again pitting locals and forest lovers against the state Forest Fire Service and other property owners.
The commission narrowly voted against giving permission for the clear cutting in August, but commissioners said they needed more information from the applicant, the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Now, the DEP has again applied for approval to remove the trees planted in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. They have grown so tall they block the view from the 80-foot fire tower, forest fire officials have said.
“To me, this is a no-brainer. These guys have to be able to operate and see the whole forest,” said Howard Chew, of Washington Township, at Friday’s Pinelands Commission meeting.
Opponents said it made no sense to create a scar on the land in an area where tourists flock in summer, and said the state needs to modernize its approach to spotting fires.
“The white pines are majestic. We call it the enchanted forest,” said Kathy Gardner, a master naturalist who said her favorite hiking trail in Bass River State Forest is the orange trail, almost a mile of which would be cut. “Think of what people will see off Exit 52 of the Garden State Parkway. Their first impression as they pass will be a clear-cut area along a scenic byway.”
Friday was the last day for public comment on the reapplication. Commission staff, which recommended approving the tree cutting last time, will take the public’s comments and make a recommendation to the commission.
The commission could vote on it again as early as next month, officials said.
Chew said he is one of the owners of Mick’s Pine Barrens Canoe and Kayak Rentals in the hamlet of Jenkins in Washington Township near Chatsworth, Burlington County.
“My little town — population 36 — is right in the middle of Wharton, Penn and Bass River (state forests),” said Chew. “If a fire gets out of control, all I can do is pack the dogs, kids, wife and take off.”
He said he is being put at risk by not cutting the trees.
“That forest in July and August is packed with people,” said Chew, including hikers, campers, canoers and kayakers.
Riki Losiewicz, who has led a petition drive to stop the tree cutting, said the tower has passed its lifespan of 70 years, and a more modern approach needs to be taken to fire spotting with the use of cameras and other high-tech equipment.
If there is a major fire, said Losiewicz, “it will have nothing to do with 100-year-old white pines. ... It will be the applicant’s failure to update.”
Karl Swanseen, of Bass River Township, suggested moving the tower, or a section of it, to higher ground nearby. Such moves have been done elsewhere, he said.
Safety is paramount, and the forest is worth preservation, “because of the historic nature of it,” Swanseen said. “It’s an excellent opportunity to meet everyone’s goals.”
Cranberry farmer Steve Lee, a former Pinelands commissioner, said he manages his forest land with controlled burning and thinning, and is afraid of what a big fire could do in the Pinelands.
“They need this tower. They told you that,” said Lee. “I’m all for a perfect process, but you need time to work that out. We need a solution to fire season this year.”
Commission staff had recommended approval last year, saying the plan met the requirements of its Comprehensive Management Plan. It was believed to be the first time the commission voted against staff recommendations regarding a request by another state agency.
Then commissioners decided to extend the application period to take more testimony from the DEP, but would not allow any more testimony from the general public, sparking controversy over the commission’s handling of the matter.
The DEP withdrew the application, saying it would reapply after looking into alternatives such as cameras and other technology.
The new application makes it clear human fire spotters in towers are the best choice in the Pinelands, said Forest Fire Service Chief Greg McLaughlin.
McLaughlin said Pennsylvania had gotten rid of many of its fire towers, thinking it could rely on 911 calls to handle forest fires. Now, the state is putting up new towers, he said.
The Bass River fire tower is just west of the parkway on East Greenbush Road in Bass River Township.
It oversees an area of about 50,000 residents — mostly to the east — in places such as Little Egg Harbor Township, Tuckerton, Bass River and Eagleswood Township.
The state has looked into replacing the tower with a 120-foot structure. Some of the 20 other towers in the state are 100 feet or more. But the state has gotten quotes of about $500,000, officials have said.
New Jersey Forest Service Chief Todd Wyckoff said the trees to be cut are in plantations that were intended to be harvested. They would be replaced with native species that would not grow as tall.
Wyckoff said the state would go out to bid for the cutting, and he hopes it would be done at no cost to taxpayers. But he could not guarantee that.
The area has seen some bad fires, including nine that have burned 30,100 acres since 1999, according to the state. Nearby fires in 1936 and 1977 each killed firefighters, who are honored with a memorial near the tower.
McLaughlin has said he expects the tower to continue being used for the next five to 10 years. But on Friday, he said the useful life of the tower is probably much longer. He said he has since talked to the manufacturer, the Air Motor Corp. of Texas, and it said none of the towers it constructed of that design has ever failed.